Cholesterol Testing And Results
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Cholesterol is a soft, wax-like substance found in all parts of the body. Your body needs a little bit of cholesterol to work properly. But too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
Cholesterol blood tests are done to help you and your health care provider better understand your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other problems caused by narrowed or blocked arteries.
The ideal values for all cholesterol results depend on whether you have heart disease, diabetes, or other risk factors. Your provider can tell you what your goal should be.
Some cholesterol is considered good and some is considered bad. Different blood tests can be done to measure each type of cholesterol.
Your provider may order only a total cholesterol level as the first test. It measures all types of cholesterol in your blood.
You may also have a lipid profile, which includes:
- Total cholesterol
- Low density lipoprotein
- High density lipoprotein
- Very low density lipoprotein
Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood to various parts of the body.
When Should You Be Tested?
You should have a cholesterol test done at an earlier age if you have:
What Does The Test Measure
An LDL cholesterol test checks the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Results are typically measured in milligrams per deciliter .
Cholesterol is a fatty substance your body naturally creates to help in digesting food, creating hormones, and making vitamin D. Cholesterol is made up of different types of lipoproteins, which are a combination of fats, also known as lipids, and proteins. Lipids connect to proteins to be able to move through your blood. Cholesterol testing often measures different substances in the blood:
- High-density cholesterol: HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver for processing and removal and is considered the good cholesterol.
- Low-density cholesterol: LDL is known as the bad cholesterol because too much of it in your blood can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, putting you at risk of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.
- Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats created by the foods we eat. These fats are stored until your body needs energy. Triglycerides are processed by your body when it needs energy. Having high levels of triglycerides can lead to coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.
- Very low-density cholesterol: VLDL is similar to LDL cholesterol but carries triglycerides through the blood. VLDL can contribute to plaque buildup and is considered a bad cholesterol.
Do I Need To Call My Doctor For My Test Results
It usually takes a day or two from the time the blood is drawn until your health care professional receives the results of the cholesterol test. Ideally, the health care professional will contact you with those results and explain their significance. However, if you have not been contacted in a short period of time, it is reasonable to contact your health care professional and ask for the test results.
There are home cholesterol test kits available that have been U.S. FDA approved, but their accuracy is not necessarily as good as that of a certified laboratory. These tests usually measure total cholesterol only, but some also can measure HDL, LDL, and cholesterol. If you use one of the home kits, it is wise to discuss the results with your health-care professional.
The purpose of the cholesterol blood test is to determine whether treatment is needed for high cholesterol. That treatment may include dietary and lifestyle modifications, medications, or both to control cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
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Why Do I Need A Cholesterol Test
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But you take in more cholesterol from certain foods, such as those from animals. If you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can build up in the walls of your arteries and eventually harden. This process, called atherosclerosis, actually narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to travel through the vessels.
Unfortunately, high cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms. In later stages of atherosclerosis, though, you may suffer angina — severe chest pain from lack of blood flow to the heart. If an artery gets totally blocked, a heart attack results. A routine blood cholesterol test is a far better way of finding out what your cholesterol level is.
Facts You Should Know About Cholesterol Tests
- Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in the body that is an important part of normal body function.
- Cholesterol has two main types: HDL, or good cholesterol, that protects against heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease and LD, or bad, cholesterol, which increases the risk of these conditions.
- Cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol as well as HDL and LDL levels in the blood. Triglycerides, another type of fat present in the bloodstream, may also be measured.
- Cholesterol tests are usually ordered and blood drawn in a doctor’s office. There are also home test kits available. It is important to be fasting for the tests to be accurate. Typically, a fasting test is performed first thing in the morning before the individual has eaten anything for the day. Fasting typically requires 12 hours without food. Water, plain tea or coffee are permitted, and hydration is required. No other liquids are acceptable during the fasting period. Patients cannot add sugar, artificial sweeteners, cream, or milk to drinks.
- If you take OTC, prescription, or herbal supplements discuss these with your doctor prior to the test.
- Cholesterol test results should be discussed with the health-care professional to determine if treatment of high cholesterol is necessary to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
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What Should My Ldl Cholesterol Be For A Blood Test
LDL is the cholesterol that blocks your blood vessels and increases your risk of heart disease. Acceptable: Below 70 if coronary artery disease is present Below 100 mg/dL if at risk for coronary artery disease or have a history of diabetes Borderline: 130 to 159 mg/dL High: 160 mg/dL or higher Very high: 190 mg/dL and above
Can Test Results Be Wrong
In some cases, cholesterol test results can be wrong. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that one common method for calculating LDL cholesterol levels often produces inaccurate results.
Improper fasting, medications, human error, and a variety of other factors can cause your test to produce false-negative or false-positive results. Testing both your HDL and LDL levels typically produces more accurate results than checking your LDL alone.
High cholesterol can be treated with lifestyle changes and medication. Lowering high levels of LDL in your blood can help you avoid problems with your heart and blood vessels.
To help lower your cholesterol levels:
- Quit smoking tobacco and limit your alcohol consumption.
- Avoid high-fat and high-sodium foods, while maintaining a well-balanced diet. Eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products, low-fat dairy products, and lean sources of protein.
- Exercise regularly. Try to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as two sessions of muscle strengthening activities.
Your doctor may put you on a therapeutic lifestyle changes or TLC diet. Under this meal plan, only 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. It also requires you to get less than 200 mg of cholesterol from your food each day.
Some foods help your digestive tract absorb less cholesterol. For example, your doctor may encourage you to eat more:
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What Do Cholesterol Test Numbers Mean
If you have a lipoprotein profile, it’s important to look at all the numbers from the cholesterol test, not just the total cholesterol number. That’s because LDL and HDL levels are two primary indicators of potential heart disease. Use the information below to interpret your results . This will help you get a better idea about your risk for heart disease.
Total blood cholesterol level:
- High risk: 240 mg/dL and above
- Borderline high risk: 200-239 mg/dL
- Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL
- Borderline high risk: 150-199 mg/dL
- Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
What Other Tests Might I Have Along With This Test
Your healthcare provider may also order other tests to look at how well your heart is working. These tests may include:
- Electrocardiogram, or ECG, which tests your heart’s electrical impulses to see if it is beating normally
- Stress test, in which you may have to exercise while being monitored by ECG
- Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to make pictures of your heart
- Cardiac catheterization. For this test, a healthcare provider puts a tube into your blood vessels and injects dye. X-rays are then done to look for clogs in the arteries of the heart
Your provider may also order tests for high blood pressure or blood sugar, or glucose.
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What Does A Cholesterol Test Measure
In addition to measuring the total cholesterol in your blood, the standard cholesterol test measures three specific kinds of fat:
- Low-density lipoproteins . This is the “bad cholesterol,” the main cause of plaque build-up, which increases your risk for heart disease. In general, the lower the number, the better. But LDL cholesterol is only one part of a larger equation that measures a personâs overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke. For years, guidelines focused on specific target numbers for individuals to achieve to lower their risk. The most recent guidelines focus on a personâs overall risk and, based on that risk, recommend a certain percentage of LDL reduction as one part of a strategy for preventing serious heart and vascular problems.
- High-density lipoproteins . This is the “good cholesterol.” It transports bad cholesterol from the blood to the liver, where it is excreted by the body. Your HDL is another part of the equation that identifies the risk of a cardiovascular event. In general, the higher the number the better, although, as with LDL, the emphasis has shifted from specific target numbers to strategies for reducing the overall risk.
- Triglycerides. Another type of fat in the bloodstream, triglycerides are also linked to heart disease. They are stored in fat cells throughout the body.
Can You Lower Triglycerides Naturally Without Drugs
Triglycerides can be lowered without drugs. For example, they can be lowered naturally through diet changes, decreasing consumption of alcohol or sugary beverages, by increasing physical activity, by losing weight, and other ways. As little as 5% to 10% reduction in body weight may lower triglycerides.
Cholesterol tests are blood tests that measure the amount of cholesterol in the body. The health care professional may order only a cholesterol test with results showing:
In addition to cholesterol level, the health-care professional also may order a lipid profile test. The lipid profile test will also measure triglyceride levels and another fatty substance found in the blood.
How Much Do Cholesterol Home Tests Cost
Costs are variable and reliable tests can run from $50 to over $150 per kit. If you have insurance, it may be better to have your cholesterol test done at a lab. This will allow your doctor to make recommendations based on a full lipid profile, and in most cases, the costs are covered by your insurance.
You can search on a full list of over-the-counter FDA-approved home cholesterol testing kits here.
Can You Check Cholesterol Without A Blood Test
During a cholesterol test procedure, a blood sample will have to be taken from a vein in your arm.
To do so, a tourniquet is tied around your arm just above the elbow. A needle is then inserted into a vein in your arm near the inside of your elbow. Once the needle is positioned, a small amount of blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or a syringe.
After the blood is collected, the needle is removed from the vein, and the tourniquet is removed from your arm. A small cotton ball is pressed over the puncture site to stop any bleeding. A Band-Aid may be placed to protect clothing should a small amount of blood leak out of the puncture site.
How long does a cholesterol take?
Having blood tests drawn takes only a few minutes.
Does a cholesterol test hurt?
Blood tests cause a minimal amount of discomfort. Some people do have anxiety about having blood drawn and it may be worse than the pain of the procedure.
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Your Test Results: A Preview
Your test results will show your cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood . Your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol are among numerous factors your doctor can use to predict your lifetime or 10-year risk for a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will also consider other risk factors, such as age, family history, smoking status, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Lipid profile or lipid panel is a blood test that will give you results for your HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total blood cholesterol.
Risks Of Untreated High Cholesterol
High cholesterol often has no signs and symptoms but can have devastating health consequences. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it builds up in the arteries and can harden. This buildup of plaque narrows the arteries and reduces and slows the blood flow to the heart. If the blood supply to any part of the heart is totally blocked, a heart attack occurs.
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Another Type Of Fat Found In The Blood Mainly From The Food We Eat
Whats healthy? Less than 1.7 mmol/L ideally on a fasting sample, or less than 2.3 mmol/L on a non-fasting sample.
What should I do? Very high triglyceride levels can cause a painful condition called pancreatitis. People can have raised levels for many reasons, but the most common reasons are lifestyle-related:
- Being apple-shaped .
- Developing or having type 2 diabetes.
Excessive alcohol consumption.
You can keep your triglyceride levels low by losing weight, being more active and eating sensibly, especially by cutting back on alcohol, sugary foods and saturated fats, and eating more fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains.
How Do I Prepare For My Cholesterol Test
If your doctor recommends a “non-fasting” cholesterol test, the lab will look only at your total cholesterol numbers. For that test, you merely need to show up at the lab and have some blood drawn. If your doctor suggests a “fasting” cholesterol test , the lab will analyze your levels of LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. For that test, you will need to fast nine to 12 hours before the blood test.
Sometimes a doctor will ask you to do a non-fasting cholesterol test first. Depending on the results, they may then send you back for the more complete lipid profile.
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What Is The Difference Between Laboratory And Point
Traditionally, cholesterol tests have been done in laboratories where clear procedures are in place for proper sample collection and analysis. These mechanisms help make sure that rest results are reliable.
New technologies have made point-of-care and at-home tests more widely available. When their instructions are correctly followed, these tests have nearly the same accuracy as laboratory tests.
For at-home and point-of-care tests, blood is taken from your fingertip instead of from a vein in your arm. Because results do not need to be sent to a laboratory, results are provided within minutes instead of days.
Laboratory testing is considered to be standard and is what doctors rely on to make medical decisions. That said, at-home and point-of-care tests are convenient and may help with ongoing monitoring of cholesterol.
What Causes Low Hdl Cholesterol Levels
While having low triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol can have a positive effect on your heart health, having low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol may count against you. That’s because HDL is considered “good cholesterol.”
HDL plays an interesting role in that it actually removes LDL cholesterol from the walls of your arteries. This may protect your arteries from clogging up and causing conditions like a heart attack or stroke.
In fact, studies have shown that low HDL levels are linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is especially true if other lipids, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, in your blood are also high. Likewise, research suggests that to a certain extent, high HDL levels are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s important to understand that there is no direct causal relationship found between HDL levels and having a heart attack or strokehinting that other factors are at play, and a person’s HDL level is one piece of the puzzle.
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What Do Cholesterol Test Results Mean
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